What Was Missing from my Parenting Toolbox Part 1

*This is a two-part throwback post from several years ago*

As my husband and I prepared to welcome our first child, we only left out one thing - THE IMPORTANCE OF EVERYONE ELSE! When I found out that I was expecting, I decided to become the most well-informed mother I could possibly be. Even though my life was quite full as an intern at a wilderness survival school, followed by becoming a manager for a family business, I read. I read about breastfeeding. I read about parenting. Birth. Babywearing. Vaccinations. Midwifery. Happy babies. Sad babies. Weaning. The list goes on… As many of us do, I was looking to find my own identity as a parent. For me that meant understanding the impact of my actions on my kid as well as understanding how humans develop and how best to meet a little human’s needs. Looking back it is hard to believe that I never even thought about whom I could rely on to help me with the job ahead.

My little one arrived, and I was in love. I was keeping it together enough. My toilets were cleaned on a regular basis. Everyone in the house got food and exercise, including the dog. It seemed that I had unlimited patience and compassion for the new being that had arrived in my world.

The only real problem with my situation (you know, besides money worries, marital adjustments to parenting and feeling like knives came out when I pooped) was that I was mostly alone by the time my child was two weeks old. Sure, a family member would come by every couple weeks bringing food and love, holding the babe while I took a shower. Yes, my husband was there after work, figuring out how to balance fatherhood and career, learning what it meant to be married to a mother. But that was it. NO ONE ELSE. EVER. We had moved 4 times by our son’s 7th month on earth. That drastically alters a family’s ability to settle into a community, make friends, and get the lay of the land. We had friends, but nowhere close. We were lonely and alone, but we didn’t even realize what was missing.

As my son got older, parenting became more challenging. I realized that my ability to maintain my parenting zen was more related to the immobility of my child than my own sainthood. My naptime reading became focused on things like peaceful parenting, redirection and staying connected with my kid even when I felt like yelling or crying. Like most mammas sometimes do, I blamed myself for somehow being insufficient. Perhaps if I had done MORE yoga in my twenties I would have been better equipped for the challenges of parenting a toddler. If I had spent more time meditating, now I’d be able to visualize oceans and hear waves crashing instead of feeling overwhelmed. All of my reading was telling me that if only I’d get a better handle on my shit, I’d be an awesome mom.

Now, I’m not dissing parenting books or self-help - thank goodness for those resources. They have helped me and many, many families. BUT, I do believe that we are so focused on how to do our best as individual parents that we can easily lose sight of our very real need for connection and companionship with neighbors, friends and family. It’s like we can’t see the forest for the trees.Maybe we could focus a little less on our own responsibilities as parents and shift some of that energy into our very extended families - made up of all those folks who know and love us and would be happy to HELP us on our journeys.

A few months ago, my grandmother told me about life as a young mother in her neighborhood. She and another lady up the street had a great thing going! One of them would watch all of their kids while the other one would take care of any and all of both households’ chores - ALL of them! Cleaning toilets, doing laundry, cooking a meal, making beds. These families were REALLY close. They helped each other every day. They laughed. They cried. They laundered towels and changed diapers. And to hear my grandmother tell the story, it is clear that their lives were richer as a result of this collaboration - their willingness to HELP each other and share their lives with each other.

This realization of what has been missing for me as a parent has really felt like a big deal. It’s like finding the key to unlock the next level of parental bliss. I can’t wait to share more about this - about seeing parents working together while visiting indigenous people in Panama, about the beauty of recent holiday visits with family, about the potential right here in my chosen home community. But for now, I’m off to play trucks with my toddler. MORE TO COME!